illustrated portrait of African American author Zora Neale Hurston

How It Feels to Be Colored Me

by Zora Neale Hurston
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Who is the intended audience of "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston?

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On one hand, Zora Neale Hurston doesn't seem to have an intended audience in mind. Her essay is more a celebration of her own identity and pride for who she has become as a individual. Though she admits she is what she calls a "colored person," she says she does...

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On one hand, Zora Neale Hurston doesn't seem to have an intended audience in mind. Her essay is more a celebration of her own identity and pride for who she has become as a individual. Though she admits she is what she calls a "colored person," she says she does not "belong to the sobbing school of negrohood." Sixty years after the end of slavery, she claims to have found freedom and happiness, more so than most white people who she feels are followed around by the ghosts of their slaves.

On the other hand, the essay was first published in a Christian magazine called "World Tomorrow," so if it is addressing anyone it might be a Christian audience. Certainly there is a sense that she feels that the suffering of the African Americans was not only out of their hands, but had lead to something better: "Slavery" she says "is a price for civilisation." As controversial a view as this is, it fits the spiritual concept that regardless of race and nationality, people are all a "fragment of the great soul."

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"How It Feels to Be Colored Me" by Zora Neale Hurston is a short essay in which she reveals her identity as a young colored woman who has learned to be content with who she is. Even more, she embraces the parts of her life which are unique to her heritage while understanding that she is created to be herself, regardless of color. 

She ends the essay with this image:

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless. A first-water diamond, an empty spool, bits of broken glass, lengths of string, a key to a door long since crumbled away, a rusty knife-blade, old shoes saved for a road that never was and never will be, a nail bent under the weight of things too heavy for any nail, a dried flower or two still a little fragrant. In your hand is the brown bag. On the ground before you is the jumble it held--so much like the jumble in the bags, could they be emptied, that all might be dumped in a single heap and the bags refilled without altering the content of any greatly. A bit of colored glass more or less would not matter. Perhaps that is how the Great Stuffer of Bags filled them in the first place--who knows?

It is obvious that she is addressing her remarks to anyone who cares to listen (read). She is not speaking only to those in her black culture (though she does address them), nor is she writing specifically to whites (though she addresses them, as well). The final metaphor, of everyone as a bag full of the bits that make them who they are but not significantly different from any other bag of bits, reveals her audience as anyone and everyone.

This is substantiated by the fact that the black community was outraged at her depiction of them when this essay was published in 1928. Hurston simply wanted to explain, as the title says, how it feels to be who she is.

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